Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Lust of the Eyes 1

In Genesis, we are told that the tree of knowledge of good and evil was ‘pleasing to the eye’.

Some detractors would question why a perfect God would give us the sense of vision and then place a visual source of temptation in a perfect world. They argue that if God really loved mankind, He would shield us from harm, making the world a cocoon of virtual experiences devoid of authentic sensory stimuli (a bit like the Matrix?). I would counter that this argument does not identify the real cause of temptation, which is our defiant independence from God. As Paul said, ‘When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.’ (James 1:13 – 15)

It is the dismissal of and efforts to avoid considering the longer term harmful implications of our choices, that constitutes the real cause of temptation. It is our wilfulness, for when we want something badly enough, we belittle the harm it can cause us. Before his approach, Satan would have seen Eve eyeing up the beautiful Tree of Knowledge day after day and wondering how tasting its attractive fruit could really be lethal. She might have wondered why God was so averse to their participation in something that appeared so attractive on the outside.

Without doubt, she would have also felt she was missing out on a new experience of discovery. After all, isn’t that what life is all about? Why would God want to stifle the natural curiosity that He had bestowed on mankind Himself? There must have been something He wasn’t telling them. What if God had imposed this restriction to safeguard HIs position of superiority? What if the Tree of Knowledge could impart complete unrestricted self-determination to humans? In other words, equality with God? ‘Covetousness, which is idolatry’ (Colossians 3:5) is how Paul describes this thinking.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains how this independence from God led men astray to worship their temporal environment: ‘For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen’ (Romans 1:21 – 25)

The fall of Man involved a speculation that if we were unshackled from our subordinate authority by which God granted us dominion over the entire natural world, we could enjoy unhindered self-determination. Rather than respecting our position under God as His highest created beings, we presumed that only this restriction stood between us and equality with God Himself. To this day, we choose to experience of good and evil, rather than to avoid them by accepting God’s word. We believed Satan’s lie. To those who, with Adam and Eve, are thinking in this way, God declares: ‘These things you have done and I kept silent; you thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face’ (Ps. 50:21)

Far from elevating us to share His divinity, unconditional moral independence venerates our short-term human wants above reliance upon God’s own statement of what we need to keep us safe in His universe. When they ate the fruit, Adam and Eve did just that: by not subordinating their material desires to God, the put them on a par with God. In short, they committed the first act of idolatry.

Idolatry is an attempt to negotiate for more from our environment without recourse to God, visualising and grovelling for the privileges of those man-made ideals of achievement, power and security in human society and the natural world. We become hostages to our immediate context, even making sexual choices that lack any consideration of the natural order or of their long-term impact on our own moral framework or society. In short, we become blind, trading our principles to the highest bidder in following the trends, brands and influencers of the current age. We invent countless permutations of the abuse of the natural world, our bodies and God’s order for them. Anything for a momentary escape from the boredom of our finite human condition.

The appearance of the serpent only served to expose Eve’s internal conversation about the Tree of Knowledge. The last stage of Eve’s descent into sin would have been to ask why God had put the tree in that central position, knowing her weakness for its fruit and that it would, for her, amount to a major distraction.

This argument is as lame as that of a career criminal who argues that since there would be less opportunity to offend in a totalitarian state, the opposite: our democratic State, is partly responsible for his misdeeds. As if restraining an individual’s bad choices is the State’s complete responsibility and that it should be the major consideration when balancing personal freedom with State control!

Christ declared to the Samaritan woman at the well, that God is actively seeking true worshippers. It is Satan’s perpetual accusation is that Man will only serve God for what He provides, rather than offering an obedience that springs from our recognition that the natural beneficial order of the universe is a stupendous token of His greatness, goodness and love towards us.

Overcoming the lust of the eyes involves a recognition of how easily we descend into blinkered, short-sighted greed (temptation) if we don't perpetually ask God to show us the unavoidable longer-term suffering and breach of our relationships (evil) it will cause. Hence, in the Lord’s prayer, we cry: ‘And lead us not into (i.e. away from) temptation, but deliver us from evil.’

It is a responsible and loving God who provides an opportunity for us to make choices (albeit, in many cases, wrong ones) and then affords an ultimate means of escape from their power and consequences through Jesus Christ, our LORD.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Lust of the Flesh

Jesus was very clear about the demands of the role that He undertook to become our Saviour. He expects that same clarity of purpose from His followers.

Prior to His public ministry, there were forty days of spiritual preparation in which Christ denied His body, His temporal being to focus on the eternal goal of our salvation.

In His first wilderness temptation, He was challenged to use His divine power over the natural world to satisfy His hunger. This is the lust of the flesh: ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ (Matt. 4:3) Satan’s subtle interrogation insinuated the idea that people would only believe in Jesus if He demonstrated the absence of human vulnerability by miraculous means. The subtext is ‘perhaps the cross is more a hindrance than a help to your divine cause’. The fear of inadequacy is Satan’s only foothold. Jesus’ rebuttal returns the Devil to another wilderness of temptation: one in which the Israelites grumbled against God over its hardships and were denied entry to the Promised Land. If we go back to the original text that He quoted, we see how relevant it was to Him, and by extension, to us.

The full text from Deuteronomy 8:3 - 5 goes like this: ‘He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.’

From Adam’s time until then, men knew that by the sweat of their brow (hard labour) they would eat bread. The LORD said, ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.’ For thousands of years, Men have worked hard to discover better ways to extract sustenance from the harsh and hostile natural environment we call Earth. We’ve even become good at it, but this is no preparation for the adversity of war (spiritual or otherwise), any more than reading books on army survival tactics.

The only way to prepare Israel for that higher dependence on God needed to conquer the Promised Land was to reduce their sense of self-sufficiency through inadequacy and vulnerability.

God was not looking on and smugly exposing their weaknesses by natural deprivation for His own pride and amusement. Like an SAS Sergeant, He was imparting the survival skill of dependence on God’s promise (word) as enough by itself to sustain them in sudden, impossible situations and to overcome physically superior forces.

They needed the drill: ‘When times get tough, we don’t complain, we give our best and pray God’s reign!’ This was the battle cry  needed to unleash divine power.

‘Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.’ (Lev. 26:8)

The SAS training regime does involves physical endurance, combat, survival and evading capture.  Recruits are also told that part of the selection process involves torture. In spite of this, many crack under pressure, hoping that the interrogator will relent and restore comfort in exchange for betraying the positions of comrades and publicly damning their own country and its policies. Only 2 – 7% of recruits are selected.

May God help us to overcome as Jesus did, seeing ourselves as God’s recruits in deprivation training. For it is better to die loyal, than survive as a broken traitor.

Three kinds of temptation

Jesus returned from forty days in the wilderness, empowered by the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist had this to say, ‘For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.’ (John 3:34)

As a result of His limitless restorative powers of divine insight and healing, Jesus’ public lecture circuit drew crowds from far and wide.

Look at the map below and then consider Matthew’s description of His ministry:

‘Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.’ (Matt. 4:3)


I would suspect that the attendance at His public speeches matched the scale of an open-air rock festival. Everyone wanted to see the healer from Nazareth.

The crucial factor in the success of His ministry was overcoming the wilderness temptations. The Christian path is always challenge and then blessing. So we would do well to study and understand how Christ overcame the challenge and thereby enjoyed the consequent blessing in His personal and public life.

The tenth commandment states: ‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.’ (Ex. 20:17)

In the New Testament, Paul expands on this idea of greed overstepping the rights of others: ‘I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.’ (Rom. 7:7).

Lust is a form of covetousness. While we are encouraged to work hard and then rest to enjoy the fruit of our labours, we can easily think more about what we don’t have. Ambition should not prevent us from being thankful and contented with what we have at present. The thinking behind lust says, ‘Well, God willing (or even if He isn’t), I still want this for me’

In this regard, let’s compare the fall of Adam to the victory of Christ. This is important, since Paul says, ‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.’ (1 Cor. 15:22)

The basis of Eve’s desire to taste from the tree of knowledge was threefold: ‘good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom’ (Gen. 3:6)

John identifies the threefold temptation in this way: ‘For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.’ (1John 2:16)

Comparing the texts, we see that:

Good for food = lust of the flesh;

Pleasing to the eye = lust of the eyes;

Desirable for gaining wisdom = pride of life;

So the ‘tree of knowledge’ relates to the three kinds of worldly temptations that we have to overcome in order to remain in the will of God.

In future posts, we will discuss the means by which Jesus tackled the three kinds of temptations and how His approach can help us to overcome sin and enjoy the rewards of faithfulness.

Friday, 19 November 2010

What becomes of the broken-hearted?

For the second time this year, I have been heartbroken. I lost my Dad in May and this blog post may only serve as a reminder that we are not just spiritual creatures, we are flesh and blood. Whatever our choices moving forward, we shouldn’t conceal the past by claiming that we protect others when we really are protecting ourselves from their ostracism and rejection.

It may go against the grain of privacy to put this in the public domain, but I feel compelled to declare that I have known and lost love. By the conservative Christian standards that I learnt, divorce and re-marriage is prohibited. I may eventually learn to live with this as my fate, or discover a less censorious way of life in the future.

Some people come into your life as a breath of fresh air. I am not ashamed to say that the breath in my life has been Fran.

I have not lived in a moralist bubble for my 19 years in England. I defy any Christian to exist in isolation with minimal family contact to that extent. Judge me and you call upon yourself the same wilderness of solitude that I experienced.

The measure of someone’s worth to you is whether they unite with all of your challenges, hopes and dreams. Where are they in your moments of darkest doubt? When you stay up all night to meet a deadline, are they fast asleep, or doing what they can by making coffee to keep you awake.

How do you spend time together? Thrilled by the same tastes, or at opposite ends of the cultural spectrum. Do friends and family look on and marvel at the strength of your commitment to each other?

Look at your pictures together. Do you see unrestrained happiness and giving, or perfunctory settling for what you can take? Do you always need, or tire of each other’s company?

To all those questions, Fran provided a resounding yes.

Wherever her life goes, I also know she brought me back to Christ. For this, she will be blessed. This may be the epitaph: She always wanted the best for me and knew He would and could provide it. Unfortunately, my single-minded pursuit of God made her faith in her claim on me a lot less sure. For that, I am sorry.

So judge, if you will, two people bereft of what could have been partnership and love of their lives.

I cannot deny the love that was mine.

As Michael McDonald sang:

It was so right,
It was so wrong almost at the same time.
The pain and ache a heart can take.
No one really knows when the memories clear.
And keep you here 'til you no longer care.
You can let go now.

It's wrong for me to cling to you.
Somehow I just needed time from what was to me.
It's not like me to hold somebody tight.
But I was tossed high on love.
I almost never came down.
Only to let in when love's no longer blind or I'm no longer blind.
I can let go now.

To Fran.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Give me a drink…

With such a simple request, Jesus began what can only be considered a Master class in person-to-person evangelism.

In a previous post, I stressed the distinction between evangelism and personal witness, the latter being your personal story of redemption from harm and godlessness. Today, I want to show how we can all gently lead a wandering soul into Christ’s flock.

1. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, assume that men and women of all walks of life are candidates for conversion to Christ.

The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) (John 4:9)

It’s easy to discriminate and make the sort of assumptions that Samuel did when he was sent to the family of Jesse to anoint a successor to the wayward King Saul.

‘When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD's anointed stands here before the LORD." 'But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."’ (1 Sam. 16:6,7) Seven of Jesse’s sons were brought to Samuel and all were rejected by God as morally unsuitable. It was the forgotten youngster, David, left outside to guard sheep, whom God recognised as being teachable enough to learn godly leadership from Him.

2. If you only knew…Demonstrate (through exceptional generosity and forbearance) the wonders of your eternal relationship with God in Jesus

Christ said, ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.’ (John 6:44) Christ uses water as the metaphor of this higher, ever-enduring relationship with Him. This relationship achieves a permanence of life beyond all circumstances that only He can provide. He doesn’t offer a detailed explanation. However, He does provide a simple assurance that she would want this higher experience of life if (1) she understood the value of transcending all circumstances as God does and (2) that He as the Son of God, was capable of imparting it.

3. The unconverted mind will reduce spiritual goals to their worldly equivalents

In the absence of an immediate show of divine supernatural power, the initial response of this woman (and of many today) was to interpret Christ’s metaphors in natural worldly terms. Similarly, Nicodemus says regarding the new birth: ‘How can a man be born when he is old?"…"Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!’ (John 3: 4). The Pharisees also had the same problem with Jesus’ spiritual metaphors, claiming, ‘This is a hard saying, who can hear it?’ (John 6:60)

So, this woman’s comparison with Jacob’s well misses the significance of Christ’s metaphor by a mile.We also do the same today e.g. Christian peace (the assurance the God has ensured that all things ultimately work for our benefit) is equated to world peace. Also, divine justice (fulfilled in the cross and resurrection with its promise of eternal amnesty for the penitent) is exchanged for its earthly equivalent: working for a godless equality within a man-centred temporal framework.

4. Don’t give up too easily

She responded by accepting His offer on the basis that it would replace the constant need to visit the well. Similarly, many people simply see religion as offering a more civilised, amenable life down here. However, they abandon hope when they are hindered in their progress towards these admirable, yet temporal, goals. We must always remember the eternal goal: the reunion with the Messiah Himself at the end of time.

Many Christians would end the conversation at this point, frustrated by the constant misunderstandings. Yet, in spite of this, the Holy Spirit compassionately identified the main obstacle in her life: relationship despair.

5. Tackle the underlying spiritual obstacle/distraction by praying for and declaring God’s insight for our lives, the hidden facts behind our life choices. Depend on the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit.

The work of the Holy Spirit is crucially important in responding to Christ. Rather than just working for closer political cooperation between Samaritans and Jews, Jesus applied the Holy Spirit to solve her personal problems supernaturally. Beware of those who preach the gospel without reliance upon the Holy Spirit.

This woman had gone through five divorces, each a major unflattering stamp of disapproval and she had finally given up on marriage. I came to Christ in a similar state caused my belief that I was far too flawed physically and emotionally to find and maintain even a short-term relationship, far less a marriage. I assumed that all relationships would end in failure, including one with Him.

6. Realise that the natural reaction to God’s scrutiny is to resort to diversion. We fear exposure and shame, even though God only does this to cure and help us to completely understand our mistakes. Provide reassurance of this outcome.

The incisive nature of His supernatural insight caused her to evade scrutiny. As a diversion, she cited a major religious controversy of that time.

There are many who try to divert attention from their need to change by citing a major ethical controversy, e.g. women priests, the Pope, abortion, in fact, anything that avoids direct personal scrutiny. ‘Anyone that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light lest his deeds should be reproved.’ (John 3:20)

6. Avoid diversions and focus on the core demand and the goal of the gospel: accepting that God’s Messiah should have the highest claim on your life choices, relationships and resources. Does He or doesn’t He? Where’s the biblical proof in our lives?

Jesus contrasted the political dispute over the true location of the temple with His Father’s quest for true worshippers whose genuine heartfelt reverence would transcend externalisms. In short, worship is a practical inner commitment to God’s rightful claim on our lives.

7. Present the insight of the Holy Spirit as a validation of God’s demand to end our persistence in wrong choices. As the death-conquering Messiah is the only person carrying God’s DNA, Jesus is the perfect expression of our Maker’s will. Accepting Jesus is accepting God. Will we accept or reject?

Although she acknowledged His insight as prophetic (as many do today), this was not enough to effect Her salvation. She even believed the scriptural promise that the Messiah of God would make all things plain. The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 

Christ directed her belief in the Messiah’s guidance to Himself: “I who speak to you am he.”

Suddenly, it all made sense. She was able to relate His miraculous knowledge of her personal history and its problems to His metaphor of living water. The divine insight and discovering the constant reassurances of God’s care would save her from a future of relationship despair. She now knew that, by constantly trusting in the guidance of His Word, she would never find it impossible to make the right choices in life again.

This was her new-found deliverance through Jesus as the all-explaining Christ. It was confirmed by her own testimony: ‘Come see a man who told me everything I ever did, Is not this the Christ?’

And that’s how a beleaguered soul is won over by Christ!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Offences must come…

‘but woe to them by whom offences come!’

Example 1: Imagine if a wild outrageous pop star, on hearing the gospel, suddenly abandoned her saucy and promiscuous persona and turned to strict celibacy, giving up a successful secular music career to sing sacred hymns. In retaliation over lost earnings, music moguls would stir up a media witch-hunt portraying the church and its ministers involved in her conversion as an extremist brainwashing fringe cult. Mainstream faiths would probably chime in and add to the widespread condemnation.

Example 2: The traditional Christian view on homosexuality is clearly at odds with the Equality Act. As legislation is drawn up in White Hall that will grant homosexuals full marriage rights, the prospect looms large that the councils could suspend the right to register legitimate marriages from any vicar who opposes their plans to make the endorsement of gay marriage a standard requirement in this country. Christian registrars have already lost their jobs over this issue. It’s no wonder that, despite its admirable social goals and working class roots, the Labour government that framed the morally offensive statute is now out of power.

Example 3: Now consider Paul preaching to a small outdoor Sabbath-day prayer meeting (Acts 16:13). He tells his audience that the evil, rebellious world of his day is imploding upon itself and that civilised society is disintegrating intolerably. He could see that all men (however outwardly noble and including himself) were responsible for the moral decline. He might have declared, ‘it can’t go on forever: the increasing hardships we face under Roman rule are storm clouds brewing before disaster strikes. God has always intervened to dispossess selfish societies and erase them permanently after long periods of forbearance. This time the sword is drawn, the judgement of all mankind (including those long dead) is ready to be executed.’

Paul would have also described how the prophets had foretold of God’s final plan to save a small remnant of mankind from the brink of destruction. This remnant, drawn from all walks of life, would unite in their inward transformation and adherence to the message of the Divine King in heavenly exile, Jesus, the Nazarene. By healing every imaginable sickness and by rising from death to the exalted place of highest authority in heaven, the right-hand of God, never to die again, Jesus had clearly demonstrated His unique credentials as the Son of the only true and living God. As the Leader of the new universe ruled by God, Jesus the Messiah would bless the penitents who returned to Him with inward renewal, imparting His own power and immortality through the Spirit of God Himself.

I could imagine him exclaiming, ‘Admit to God your participation in this mess were in and seek His forgiveness now. Even your long-forgotten crimes, grievances and every sordid secret will be exposed and punished accordingly. However well-disguised, the shameless conscience will not escape the fire of God’s judgement. Don’t test God’s patience with contempt anymore!’

Paul’s message was well received by the riverside audience. That is, apart from constant interruptions by a spiritually disturbed, attention-seeking slave girl. Overtaken by an unclean spirit, she declared, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved’. It was a shrewd attempt by the spirit to discredit his testimony. Paul’s listeners would have been distressed by such an unworthy heathen endorsement.

Much as we are today, pagan society would listen to anyone who could promise a quick fix for future calamity. Religion was steeped in materialism: you paid mediums to consult the spirit world on your behalf and, in return, their guidance was supposed to steer you towards the commonly-held dream of lasting happiness, domestic bliss and worldly prosperity. Heathen culture tried to discern this guidance by the contrived interpretation of natural events and rituals involving chance. These rituals offered symbolic reverence towards the invisible, but powerfully destructive and deceptive spirit beings that were assumed, in the place of God, to control providence for the future.

As a medium, the slave-girl could become a spirit’s frenzied ventriloquist doll, making bold, impressive, but largely unsubstantiated pronouncements. Her trances and tricks would influence gullible folk to part with hard-earned cash, all of whom hoped for a glimpse of their uncertain future. It also gained for her masters a handsome dividend.

Eventually, Paul had heard enough of her, he commanded by the authority of Jesus (as the Son of God) for the fortune-telling spirit to leave the girl alone. It left immediately.

The sudden loss of their regular income from their slave aroused her owners’ anger. They arrested Paul and dragging him before magistrates with the charge that his actions contravened the laws of Imperial Rome. In short, Paul’s actions in releasing the oppressed girl won him a public flogging and he was held in prison custody, pending a criminal indictment.

The corollary is that offence can arise out of the most innocuous efforts to maintain a moral, godly stance in a godless age.

Example 4: John the Baptist lived a segregated, austere life. He devoted himself to prayer and challenged his society to return to follow God’s laws. As with Jesus, the crowd questioned his views on public and private morality. His answers were specific and unequivocal. Ordinary citizens were told: ‘The man with two tunics should share with him that has none, and the one who has food should do the same’. Those who collected taxes that expanded Roman rule heard: ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to’. Soldiers working for Herod were instructed: ‘don’t extort money and don’t commit perjury for money – instead be content with your pay!’ (Luke 3:10 – 14)

Regarding the issue of marriage, he fearlessly proclaimed that Herod Antipas had set aside his previous marriage on unwarranted grounds. He also insisted that his subsequent marriage to Herodias, who was previously married to Herod Philip, his half-brother, was unlawful. Yet this was in a time ruled by licentious Romans, who were only concerned with maintaining the expansion of the Empire, so who gave him authority to say that?

Well, John’s position on marriage was based on the Mosaic Law and the historic prophets of Judaism. Herodias was the wife of Antipas’ half-brother. John held, as Jesus did, that God could only sanction a lawful union between those who were free from other legitimate claims on their devotion. Their marriage was a lifetime commitment, so the concession of a divorce was only permissible when the union was subverted by the most extreme cases of betrayal and desertion. Also divorce, as a limited concession under Moses law, did not provide an entitlement to re-marry while the previous spouse was alive.

Although his hard-line position won a following among the crowds who saw the chastening hand of God in Rome’s oppression and its puppet rulers, it also aroused a bitter resentment in Herodias, an ambitious woman of noble birth.

Herod Philip and Herod Antipas were sons of Herod the Great by different marriages. Antipas, the younger son, inherited rule as a tetrarch over Galilee and Peraea. His elder brother was bequeathed a larger territory. In spite of his youth, Antipas was showing the makings of a great king through the ambitious civil projects that he undertook. Perhaps, it was this enterprising arrogance of the younger, more malleable brother that attracted Herodias. It is commonly accepted that they met on a trip to plead over the disputed bequests before courts in Rome. Josephus, the first-century historian, relates the grievance and scandal that their illicit affair and offspring caused. Beyond setting aside his first wife without due process, a marriage to Herodias would never be right. She was his half-brother’s wife and even if Herod Philip died, marriage to a former sister-in-law was only allowed where no children were involved.

This act was also a humiliating betrayal of his first wife’s father, Aretus, who sought revenge against this insult and took it by way of battle in AD 36.

Given the public furore and his new wife’s dismay, we can understand why Herod threw John into prison without trial. After a long period of languishing in jail, Herodias finally won her revenge. Her young daughter danced to the delight of Herod at a birthday function held by Antipas and attended by his court along with Roman and local officials. He promised by publicly to grant anything she requested, but he must have fallen from his couch when heard a mere child echo her mother’s demand: ‘Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist’ (Matt 14:6 - 10).

For all the offence his illicit marriage had caused, Herod Antipas was unwilling to go back on his promise and lose face in front of his dinner companions. He called for the execution to take place. The gruesome trophy of her contempt must have made his guests’ stomachs churn with revulsion. However, for Herodias, it was sweet revenge served dead cold. She must have laughed with delight as John’s followers took his body away for burial. Little did she know that, many years later, her husband’s forces would experience a crushing defeat at the hands of his offended ex-father-in-law. No one escapes the judgement of God.

John’s death was the catalyst that precipitated Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, it was His time to stand up against unjust men and the society that they had corrupted by poor example. ‘Repent you, for the Kingdom of God is approaching’ he declared. Yes, the new followers would need to help, support and forbear each other in the interim, but in His mind, there was still no room for compromise. All the basic tenets of the Mosaic Law still held true. (Matt. 19:1 – 11)

We should also remember how He compassionately spared the woman caught out in illicit sex by vigilante moralists with the words: ‘Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more’ (John 8:11)